Jodphur, Rajasthan, India - Sambhali Trust
A Summer with Sambhali
This summer, I had to opportunity to volunteer with Sambhali Trust, a women's empowerment NGO that works in the city of Jodhpur, Rajasthan. Rajasthan is one of the most conservative states in lndia, and within Rajasthan Jodhpur is considered to be a conservative city as well. Rates of child marriage, rape, and domestic violence are amongst the highest in India, and women severely lack opportunities for education and employment. Sambhali Trust's goal is to empower women in Jodhpur by providing them with education, employment, and an open community of other women. Sambhali's programs are housed in different sites across the city, called Empowerment Centers.
Providing education, employment, and community to women is an essential aspect of women's empowerment. However, women will also never be fully empowered until men give their full support toward equal rights for women. Influencing men in Jodhpur to be more supportive of women's rights is therefore one ofSambhali Trust's biggest long-term goals. This is where my project emerged: Sambhali Trust proposed that for my project I assess what the fathers, husbands, and sons of women taking part in Sambhali Trust's programs think about women's rights and education. During my eight weeks in Jodhpur, I created a survey with questions aimed at discovering male family members' views on women's rights, which was then translated into Hindi. I distributed it at different Empowerment Centers and collected the results. In addition to the surveys, I conducted interviews with husbands of women in Sambhali Trust's programs. The culmination of this project was a report and a presentation on the assessments' results. Sambhali Trust also intends to conduct the assessment again in 6-12 months to begin the process of observing male family member perspectives over time, and I have worked with staff to help make this process sustainable.
In addition to my main project, I had the opportunity to teach at the Empowerment Centers. This was by far my favorite part of my experience this summer. While working on the male family member assessment was fascinating, getting to meet and teach the girls and women felt the most valuable to me personally. I had never been to India before, and I felt a range of emotions as I acclimated myself: amazed by the rich culture everywhere, sheepish about fitting in, guilty about my struggle with the language barrier. Laughing and talking with the women I met- even over the awkwardness of the 1·anguage barrier made me feel welcome and a part of the community that I called home for the summer. In the last three weeks of my project, I taught my own small class every day, and I will sincerely miss my students when I leave. The experience has reaffirmed my belief that personal interactions and relationships are the most important part of any project or endeavor.
This summer, I learned that empowerment is something that is inherently personal. To one woman provided with employment through Sambhali Trust, it was earning enough money to be able to move out of her in-laws' home. To others, it was the ability to engage her creativity in designing clothes or learning to express her opinion more often at home. Even seemingly small changes can feel like a huge leap for someone who feels empowered by them. I've learned that though it is difficult to quantify these feelings and subtle changes, they are crucial aspects of empowerment that should never be invalidated.